Unregulated checkpoints and excessive taxes in South Sudan
The number of checkpoints across South Sudan has had inestimably increased during the recent past—deferred civil war. This includes a number of both legal and illegal checkpoints unilaterally set-up; before or after 2018, in the former “Oppositions and Government-controlled areas”.
Despite the partial establishment of the RTGoNU in March 2020, such unilateral creations of checkpoints; a collection of excessive and illegal taxes continued along the River Nile and roads linking up ten (10) States as well as those checkpoints at South Sudan’s borders with its neighboring countries.
In some places, you can find the distance between this and that checkpoint range is five to six kilometers or even less. For example, the number of checkpoints along the River Nile alone i.e. between Juba-Malakal is estimated to be over one hundred (100) checkpoints, plus now those that set-up also along Malakal-Renk or along Sobat, Zeraf, Bhar El Ghazel (in the Nile River’s tributaries) as well as along the land.
In some parts of the floods that affected the Greater Upper Nile, the canoeists paddling local people from one village to another are also being taxed.
How many legal and illegal checkpoints (both along the rivers and on land) are there across South Sudan? Who is controlling those checkpoints, the RTGoNU? I think the RTGoNU is not in the one control. Because since it was partially formed in March 2020, I have never seen any practical sign that can show a unified call it revitalized Government is formed, at all levels.
The way I see it, the responsibility of these checkpoints looks like is still in the hands of those certain cliques of the bigwigs and the allied sections of communities.
Therefore, the RTGoNU is having no power or audacity since it was established to generate one unified policy that can regulate the creation of checkpoints; taxes, and revenue collection at all levels of government or across South Sudan. So, the said same cliques and their allied sections of communities but within the government are the ones still very powerful than the R-TGoNU.
The taxes and revenues are collected but not into Govt’s Accounts
All or most of the personnel deployed to the checkpoints either by their rulers/bosses or relatives unsystematically from within the government collect too much tax indiscriminately both from commercial and humanitarian vehicles/barges. There is no fixed amount the government agreed to be taken from each vehicle at all checkpoints. Every group of people at each checkpoint has their own laws.
So, every vehicle/truck, boat/barge is taxed based on how big its engine or its body is. For instance, along the rivers, a boat with 150, 200, or 300 engine host power is equally taxed at one hundred and fifty thousand (SSP 150,000), two hundred thousand (SSP 200,000 SSP) and three hundred (SSP 300,000 SSP), or beyond if it’s a barge, respectively. The same thing also applies to big cars/trucks moving on the land routes e.g. between Juba-Nimule, Bentiu-Kersana, Juba-Natapale highways/roads….etc.
If it happened that a car/truck, a boat or a barge doesn’t have cash at hand to pay at each checkpoint created along with these ways, then that boat, car/truck or barge has to be detained at that particular checkpoint (s) for several hours/days or even for a week until the money needed is sent from Juba or elsewhere possible. Where do these personnel report the taxes they always collect from the checkpoints? Do they report these taxes to the government’s concerned revenues authority?
Unfortunately, the information we receive reveals that most of the taxes they collect from the checkpoints (both river & land) across the country cannot all be deposited into the government’s revenue “single ACCOUNTS” be it at the National, State or Local level.
So, about ninety (90%) of these taxes and the revenues being collected on a monthly basis, countrywide, end up in the individuals’ pockets or pockets of the specific group of leaders (bigwigs) within the RTGoNU. Currently, in South Sudan, there are no laws and orders guiding the collection of taxes and how to use the revenues collected.
Every group of leaders with their subordinates or sections of some communities have their own checkpoints where they collect excessive taxes as they wish, use those revenues collected for their own benefit and not that of the nation. I don’t know how Economists can call this disorder, for, I am not an economist. Is it economic anarchy or crisis?
The impacts of unregulated checkpoints and excessive taxes on the common citizens
The current unregulated checkpoints and excessive taxes collection in South Sudan impinges following negative results and disadvantages on South Sudan’s citizens—the IDPs, host communities and the refugees now living in the country:
1. Unregulated checkpoints and excessive taxes can cause unlawful delays of lives-saving and humanitarian aids (food, medicine, supplies etc) on the ways. The Humanitarian assistances which are always meant to reach the deprived beneficiaries as soon as possible in the IDPs’ PoC sites and host communities camps in the hard to reach areas in South Sudan. These beneficiaries are always subjected to starvation/suffering before the intended humanitarian aids could reach them;
2. The excessive taxes and revenues collected from all these checkpoints on monthly basis cannot be deposited into the Government revenue authority account for the benefit of the people of South Sudan;
3. Business people raise the prices of the commodities up, beyond expected prices which the vulnerable and pauper citizens may not afford to pay. When you ask the business people as to why they always raise up the prices of the items they would say “the commodities were bought and brought from abroad at higher prices—in hard currencies” and in addition “the authorities also a levy on us too much taxes on the ways”.
Therefore, you would have nothing more to say than to agree with the justification the business people can give. And in this kind of situation, no one can argue much with them (except the Govt if it accepts reducing the taxes) because most of the commodities that are being sold in South Sudan are imported from abroad and the taxes being collected at the checkpoints are also excessive.
Naturally, business people are interest-driven communities. So, they have to always keep adding up the prices of their commodities if the government which is supposed to protect the interests of its vulnerable and pauper citizens does not care and cannot responsibly think to reduce the excessive taxes it is being collected from the traders, at the checkpoints. In a practical manner, the IDPs and vulnerable host communities are suffering the most. Once one of these citizens is in the market, he/she has to face the pains in taking either to buy a less-preferred e.g. food (which shall soon finish) or risk going hungry for some swap days as the family waits for a WFP’s 7 KGs food ratio each which may sometimes come after some months.
Therefore, the majority of South Sudanese citizens are languishing in such economic hardship or situations while inside the concentration camps as IDPs or as host communities. Our people don’t deserve such unfavourable situations at all, given their constitutional and inalienable rights as enshrined in TCRSS 2011 (as amended).
How corruption and lack of ‘political will’ from the leaderships contributes to the current culture of clutching things meant for ALL
There is widespread corruption, an absence of transparency and a lack of “political will” from within the ITGoNU/RTGoNU’s leaderships. This has deeply hampered the country’s expected quick transition to recoveries. Leaders are practically unwilling to be abided by set the decent body of rules including the deal (R-ARCSS) they signed in September 2018. Article 2.3.1 says the “Transitional Period of thirty-six (36) months shall start on completion of redeployment of Necessary Unified Forces, or on the expiry of the eight (8) months” pre-Transitional period, which was May 2019. This article was by design circumvented; instead, they pulled themselves in and formed the RTGoNU in March 2020 after it was postponed (for 6 Months + 100 Days) twice. Moreover, the RTGoNU’s initial mandate is to “restore permanent and sustainable peace, security and stability in South Sudan”. However, despite this plain objective, the same leadership wasted two (2) years of the said transitional period without putting in place an operational or a fully established RTGoNU at all levels. In other words, from where I sit, I can see no “permanent and sustainable peace, security and stability” being restored in South Sudan. For instance, I can hear or read; about 15-20 people are always being reported killed either in Lakes or Warrap States. Where is Peace, security and stability we are talking about? This alone may portray South Sudan as a country without one system of Government working to achieve one big objective. The leaders are indecently moving towards opposite directions—sabotaging the well-beings of their own constituents. You can find one human being go out there and clutch what is sometimes meant for ALL (Country). Because of this culture of clutching and corruption, some of the officials who have been appointed to national, states or local levels positions including the Vice Presidents, ministers, and advisors, MPs, Commissions’ Chairpersons/Deputies and Counties’ Commissioners are yet to receive their monthly remunerations, as Government Officials.
And there are others who have not been appointed to any government position but still can receive big money. On the other hand, the implementation process of the R-ARCSS is not going they said “due to lack of Funds”. Is this really true?
I think the citizens are groaning; languishing in starvation and Peace is not going today not because there are no Funds. It is because of corruption and leadership’s lack of political which does also prevent the same leadership from following the general principles of the Agreement as stipulated in Chapter IV.
So, in our view, this widespread corruption and lack of political will from within the country leadership has also contributed much to the current culture of clutching and sufferings of the people of South Sudan in two ways:
First, some of the activities which meant to be done during the pre-transitional period of eight (8) months weren’t completed as stipulated in the R-ARCSS. Activities like training and positioning (deployment) of the Necessary Unified Forces—NUF as part of security arrangements plus other activities to be carried out subsequently thereafter including reconstitution of the Transitional National Legislature, State Legislative Assemblies, County Councils and operation of the government at all ‘levels. All these activities did not take place before or in 2019 as anticipated.
Secondly, the oil & non-oil-revenues that are being collected countrywide, unfortunately, end up in some individuals’ leaders’ homes and in the pockets of their relatives and associates. Political and military leaders right from the central government down to State and local levels have largely involved in this practice. These kinds of leaders are the ones now impeding the peace implementation process.
Why the RTGoNU parties should now sit to reduce the number of checkpoints; regulate taxes and revenues collection, countrywide.
The oil and non-oil revenues collected in South Sudan on monthly basis are not all being deposited into Government’s Accounts. That means, there are no transparency, accountability and responsible use of the oil and non-oil revenues in the country.
Some leaders have chosen their personal interests over that of their own people’s. Chapter IV of the R-ARCSS stipulates in Article 22.214.171.124 that “The RTGoNU shall establish effective, transparent and accountable management of oil and non-oil revenues” read together with Article 126.96.36.199 “ all revenues due to the government derived from petroleum and other natural resources are collected into a ‘single treasury account’ and that those revenues are managed and spent responsibly in accordance with the laws of South Sudan using predictable, auditable processes for the benefit of the people”.
On the other hand, the RTGoNU at national, state or local levels is not yet fully reconstituted—partially operational. Therefore, we are hereby appealing to the Presidency—RTGoNU (all parties to the R-ARCSS) to act and minimize the sufferings of South Sudanese people by doing the following:
1. Graduate and deploy now the Necessary Unified Forces—NUF; reconstitute Council of States, States Legislative Assemblies and appoint Counties’ Counselors. These bodies are relevant security and law-making bodies, without them, the RTGoNU will never be considered as fully revitalized or as operational at all levels;
2. The RTGoNU should now unite its voices; form a committee inclusive of both National and States or local governments’ representatives to then sit together, reduce the current number of checkpoints (both river and roads) and agree on fixed the reasonable or legal number of checkpoints to be maintained in each County, State or in South Sudan as a country;
3. The RTGoNU’s committee should also sit, deliberate, agree and exempt all the barges; boats or vehicles belonging to the UN and humanitarian agencies that carry or do deliver pure humanitarian assistance, from the taxes related issues and long delay at the checkpoints;
4. Regulate and agree on a reasonable but fixed amount of tax to be taken from each commercial barge, boat or vehicle at all legal checkpoints and then manage these revenues in accordance with the R-ARCSS Chapter IV.;
5. Agree on the number of the Government official forms to be used (e.g form 15) at all checkpoints across the country and distribute it to all legal checkpoints;
6. The same RTGoNU’s joint committee (security forces included) should now move along the Rivers and along the highways/roads as it removes all illegal checkpoints unilaterally created during the war while reconfirming the agreed-upon legal checkpoints being maintained; and
7. Finally, the RTGoNU should sit and regulate how oil and non-oil revenues can be collected countrywide and on monthly basis be deposited directly into the government’s “single accounts” for the government to then use these revenues accordingly e.g for paying civil servants’ salaries, facilitating security arrangements and other necessary activities of the R-ARCSS. In this way, the suffering common citizens of South Sudan shall be able to benefit from these revenues and not only the current individuals’ leaders and peace obstructers who are now misusing the national resources at the expenses of the majority people of South Sudan.
The author, Bol Khan, is a member of South Sudan’s Civil Society; human rights and peace activist